Civil Society and Its Institutional Context in CEE

Although civil societies in Central and Eastern Europe are often portrayed as similar, united by a shared communist past, they have developed along increasingly divergent trajectories over the past three decades. This article investigates the current state of civil society in the region and the role the institutional context plays in it. Drawing on historical institutionalism and the process of European integration, we classify the 14 countries under investigation into three distinct groups and analyze data from a survey of more than 350 local civil society experts. We find that, together with domestic governments, international donors and the EU are perceived as the most influential institutional actors for civil society organizations. Their respective influences, however, depend largely on a country’s stage in the EU accession process. Overall, the study provides a differentiated mapping of civil society in this region and a better understanding of how the institutional context relates to a country’s civil society.

The study was conducted by the Competence Center for Nonprofit Organizations and Social Entrepreneurship at WU Vienna (Vienna University of Economics and Business). The data collection for this study was funded in parts by ERSTE Foundation.

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